We stumbled upon the tree halfway between Hampi Bazaar and the Vittala Temple. After a slow and shade-less smear across the rock desert, a trail of spilled sweat and water evaporating in our footsteps, we were ready for a pause. Shuffling beneath its shadow, we made a wordless commitment to stay and regain.
The tree was enormous. Epiphites hung all around us, like the hardened strands of a half-torn web. A seam in its trunk looked wide enough to enter, opening into a womb of cool. There were steps poured around the tree's base, forming a misshapen alter that cracked where the roots refused to be encased. But strangest of all were the ribbons and string that dangled from every limb, weighed down by small, swinging bundles.
I stepped towards one, reaching out.
"They're for the dead," one my friends said. "People hang rocks here to remember their dead."
My fingers stopped, frozen by the hundreds of hearts twisting in the shade. Hung in satchels, torn cloth, and scraps of plastic bags, the rocks danced whenever the heat wriggled beneath the canopy. The ground was littered with fragments that had dropped, leaving a landscape of fallen, broken prayers.
Losses had brought me to Hampi: losses from death, from life. And so I found myself picking up a rock and a piece of plastic and making my way to the far side of the tree. I worked the stone into its nest and twisted it tight, as if wrapping a piece of candy. I thought of words never shared, of futures never lived, and said something, anything, trying to transfer the weight. I tied the stone to the tree.
With my back to the heat and my face to the seam, I closed my eyes and inhaled the cool from its dark inside.
When I came around, my friends were drifting away, back towards the fire of the road. My body resisted: it had grown accustomed to comfort of the floating shrine and its monument to loss.
But it was time. Time to leave the words and ghosts. Time to walk out of the soothing shadow of memory and push on, heart first, along the hot, open road.